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“Good Time Girls” and the development of early Fairbanks

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 6:19 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Ladies of the Line. Good Time Girls. Workers in “the trade.” During the early days of Fairbanks, prostitution played a large role in the area’s economy.

Joan Skilbred, Board Member of the Pioneer Museum in Fairbanks, said. “A lot of them were businesswomen. They would come up here during the summer and they would go back and they would take their money and they would go live down in the states in the winter.”

According to Lael Morgan, author of the book “Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush”, “A lot of them hadn’t come up as professionals. They came up with a husband or a brother and lost them, and the cost of living was such that a woman could not make enough money to support herself by herself.”

Morgan said in many places prostitutes couldn’t work unless they had a madam, to whom they paid a percentage of their profit. “That wasn’t the case in Fairbanks. A girl would be independent. She had police protection... medical checkups every week, and it was a safe environment.”

In early Fairbanks, the red light district was surrounded by a board fence, and ran between Cushman and Barnette Street along 4th Avenue.

Skilbred said, “While it met a need in the community in one way, it also came with a price.”

Residents from Fairbanks suffering psychological effects would often be sent to Oregon for treatment. “It would be called general paresis, and general paresis is another term for tertiary syphilis,” she explained, adding, “Men would go out, sow their oats, and they would go, and prostitution was very prevalent everywhere, and these diseases were spread through that system, and they would end up infertile.”

One prominent figure during this time was Georgia Lee, whose house is on display at Pioneer Park. “She came up in the 1890s, and she was from the Midwest. She was beautiful. She was young... When she died, she left about $200,000 dollars, which is pretty close to a million today,” Morgan said.

According to Morgan, Lee was a respected member of the community. She is buried at Birch Hill Cemetery. “If you go up there, usually you’ll find seashells or flowers or money on her grave, her tombstone, because people go up there and leave presents.”

Rumors abound that street names in Fairbanks carry on the history of the Good Time Girls. “I’m damn proud of the work they did and the start they gave our town,” Morgan said.

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